Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Sign of the Times

After seven years of observing what I thought was repugnant political manipulation of and pandering to the military, I am heartened to see that ADM Mike Mullen has begun to tell the troops to stay out of partisan politics.

Mullen said he was inspired to write the essay after receiving a constant stream of legitimate, if troubling, questions while visiting U.S. military personnel around the world, including, "What if a Democrat wins?" and, "What will that do to the mission in Iraq?"

While his writings address his spot-on guidance, sure would like to know how he handled this on the fly, and, if he answered in a manner consistent with his "all hands" message, whether intermediate commanders had the courage to fully reiterate this important guidance.

During the Clinton impeachment, there was a desire amongst some of the more vocal Republicans to see if the service chiefs would be willing to testify as to whether the troops willingness to obey the president had been weakened by the scandal. Since none of the chiefs took the stand, it would appear that the then serving crop of generals were not about to get sucked in to what I would call a pure and simple mutiny. Perhaps ADM Mullen's Navy roots helped him stand up to the plate and caution the troops to avoid mutiny and preserve one of the most sacred ideals of our American military.

It does offer a bit of hope.



FDChief said...

It'd be a good start.

I have to say that the past decade have highlighted some of the best and worst of our armed services. There's no doubt about our technical competence. At simple warfighting we're pretty much the only guy in the room.

At the same time, we look pretty pig-stupid strategically and geopolitically. Seeing my Chief Executive redced to literally begging a foreign potentate for natural resources was perhaps one of the most embarassing things I've seen as an American. Watchng my country substitute motion for direction in the Middle East, and drift motionless almost everywhere else...this is not smart military policy any more than it's smart politics.

We seem to have developed a sort of pedigreed Doberman sort of officer: lots of teeth, long legs and the political brain the size of a walnut. The fact that in many cases what little cogitative power that walnut possess is taken over by nonsensical right-wing blabber and slogans makes things even worse.

And I'm not sure that the entire breeding process is reversable. Sometimes you have to bring in a whole new process, and I suspect that may be what's needed.

Much like our political process, which was desined for a much smaller, agrarian nation, our military may be showing the strain of our size and power...

bg said...

FDC said, "And I'm not sure that the entire breeding process is reversible."

Sure, it just takes some good leadership and some time to breath. I think that the Army officer Corps has lost some of it's Prussian officer values. Some of it is good, i.e, unlike other services or other officer Corps in other nations, you will hardly ever find an Army officer who doesn't consider being "with the troops", getting his/her hands dirty as being admirable qualities of an officer.

However, where education is considered an important thing to officers, we just don't have time. With the very tight timelines to the next paygrade we deal with (and getting tighter every year it seems like), you have to make a choice: Spent time with the troops, or take time away and get a good education The answer for the majority of officers if given choice will be to be with the troops. Again, this is a good quality and the type of attitude we need in today's AVF (where officer elitism is highly frowned upon).

Where we fail in the officer Corps is that we fail to train each other. Officer Professional Development (OPD) is not just lacking, it is damn near criminally negligent. We respect a commander who wants to get away from the desk and emails, and wants to spend time on the range or in the motorpool, but there is a tendency to hate commander who forces his/her subordinate officers to "read a book", let alone discuss Army and officer ethics. There is just no time for that "crap", we have another deployment to prepare for.

I think IRR also had a great point in some previous threads that the places where officers are being recruited from (primarily in the south) are causing a serious lack of diversity in the officer Corps.

I do think it can be fixed, but not until our operational tempo slows down for a few years, we wash out some of the people who need to go away and just get some time to relax. God, I can still remember the days I spent as a young LT, bored, begging for a deployment. Without deployments, an officer's life in garrison is easy and should be the time that we educate each other. We just need that time again.

I've said it over the past couple of years, and I still believe it, despite suspect comparisons of our "broken Army" with the Army of the late 70s. I believe that after we finally slow down to a reasonable Operational Tempo, we will have the greatest, most experience Army in the history of the U.S. When today's LTs and CPTs who were born and raised in AFG and Iraq become the Army's senior leadership, I have no doubt that this will happen. We just need to survive long enough to get there.

bg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bg said...

crazy double post, sorry

basilbeast said...

I recollect a story out of Xenophon, where the Spartans asked the Athenians to send some military help to put down a rebellion, whose philosophy the Athenian troops were quite supportive of. But they did their duty to their Spartan allies.

Nevertheless, the Spartans sent them packing.


basilbeast said...

fdchief, what's worse?

The begging, or being tossed aside like you didn't matter?

Pretty much sums up the legacy of the Bush Regime to me.

Ref. Bush Presidential Library, Trash Heap, Texas.


basilbeast said...

oops, Thucydides!

I agree, bg, crazy times!

Publius said...

"We seem to have developed a sort of pedigreed Doberman sort of officer: lots of teeth, long legs and the political brain the size of a walnut. The fact that in many cases what little cogitative power that walnut possess is taken over by nonsensical right-wing blabber and slogans makes things even worse."

Classic. Nobody can turn a phrase like the Chief. I won't even try. I'll just say I like what he says.

I want to briefly address what Bg wrote because I think it's very important, coming as it does from an active duty officer. Bg, I've addressed some of what I view as a growing anti-intellectual tendency within the Army officer corps in a post on Carter's blog, so I'll not repeat it here.

I did want to follow up a bit on the officer professional development and "time with troops" themes you addressed. Unless the Army has changed more than I think it has, "time with troops" often consists of such things as standing around scratching one's ass while the troops work in the motor pool. "Time with troops" can also result in one's morphing into a "super-sergeant" and unwittingly retarding NCO professional development and their own necessary "time with troops" WITHOUT an officer present. "Time with troops" sounds great, but it's a dual-edged sword, one that can also unfortunately come across as currying favor with the troops.

"Time with troops" is also a cop-out because it's easier than true officer professional development, which, as you note, may actually (shudder) call for reading a book or perhaps even reflecting upon and debating one's role as a constitutional officer in our republic. One can't do that with the troops.

I served for about nine months on my last tactical assignment under a battalion commander whom, on first meeting, I tabbed as a lightweight blowhard. Well, he was a blowhard all right—something he and laughed about years later after we'd become good friends—but he was no lightweight. He pissed us all off by instituting Saturday AM officer training sessions. His goal was to increase technical and tactical proficiency and to inculcate a sense of what it meant to be a military officer.

We did weapons firing, with me and some of the other older guys helping younger guys in learning how to fire a .45. We did land navigation. We did field sanitation. We did ethics. We even addressed legal issues, focusing on interrogations (sound familiar?), not a bad topic for an MI unit. And on and on. All without the troops around, a factor that allowed everyone to be candid in their comments. I think everyone got a great deal from these Saturday morning sessions.

It's my sense this is what officers should be doing, not scratching their asses in the motor pool.